Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Joint Conference Committee Sessions Have Begun!

What a whirl wind week! Monday the Joint Budget Conference committees met to lay out their respective priorities. We were not surprised to find out the Joint Committees had not received their table target budget amounts. The Joint Leader’s Conference met fist. Senator Flanagan kicked off the committee, emphasizing the Senate's desire to spur job creation, transportation infrastructure, college affordability, the creation of a clean water bond act, and workers compensation. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reaffirmed the Assembly's commitment to Raise the Age and funding of Foundation Aid. Senator Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference was allowed to speak before Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, he laid out the IDC's budget plan emphasizing the IDC's commitment to seeing Raise the Age pass during this budget process. The Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb spoke next about the minority's concerns over the STAR rebate program and the oversight of the Regional Economic Development Corporation. When Senator Stewart-Cousins was finally allowed to speak she started off with her disappointment that the Senate Democrats were not permitted to have their budget considered by the Senate. She said the IDC's Raise the Age proposal was inaccurate and that the Senate needed a greater focus on school funding. 

The Joint Committees broke out into three meeting rooms, each presented for an average of 15 minutes with much of that time being spent on members saying what aspects of the budget were most important to them. The League sat in on several committees including health, environmental conservation, transportation, public protection, and education. We were pleased to see that the Education Committee reaffirmed their commitment to a full phase in of Foundation Aid. The bipartisan committee also agreed that they needed to take additional steps to help with the recent influx of English as a second language students in both New York City and Upstate. The two houses did not agree on Mayoral Control. 

The League and its good government allies fought tirelessly to make sure that budget negotiations are open to the public. New York State law now mandates that these budget conferences meet in public and allow citizens to see how deals are being made. Unfortunately, these conference sessions have become political theater and much of the budget negotiations will be done behind closed doors. We do not anticipate any other joint conference meetings. 

On Thursday the legislature was hit by another federal indictments. Senator Robert Ortt and former Senator George Miziarz were accused of filing a false instrument by Attorney General Eric Schniederman. Ortt is accused of giving his wife a no-show job when he was Mayor of North Tonawanda. Miziarz's case is somewhat more complicated and involves a staffer accused of sexual harassment that was paid by the county GOP committee even after he had stepped down from his position. The payments had been concealed to avoid scrutiny. The legislature and Governor continue to blatantly ignore the obvious problem of corruption plaguing Albany. While we hope that the legislature will add stronger ethics reforms to the final budget proposal, there has been little attention paid to the issue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

March Budget Madness Continues

Monday started with a conference and rally by NYCLU dealing with reproductive justice, GENDA legislation, and legal services for the indigent and immigrants. The conferees rallied outside of the Capitol in very cold temperatures but the conference attracted over 2,000 people.  All of the speakers delivered moving firsthand accounts of the challenges they have faced because of outdated and prejudicial laws surrounding reproductive health care, the judicial system, and immigration. Several League members were part of the rally. The one house budget resolutions were released in both houses but because of the blizzard Tuesday’s session was canceled.

On Tuesday New York State was hit with a large snow storm that stalled budget negotiations in the Senate and Assembly. Wednesday business resumed and the two houses began debating their budget resolutions. The Assembly included early voting, automatic voter registration, closing the LLC loophole, and some other ethics reforms in their package. They also included as a priority Raise the Age, funding for immigration services, a $1.8 billion increase in school funding,  and a commitment to a full phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula starting with a $1.4 billion increase this year.
The Senate’s proposal was quite different with a heavy focus on further reducing taxes on the middle class and wealth 1%. The Senate also proposed an increase in school aid by $1.2 billion and increase in foundation aid by $4.7 million over executive proposal. Both houses disagree with Governor over the elimination of foundation aid formula. Both resolutions also included a clean water bond act, and an opioid addiction plan.

Senate Democrats put forward their own resolution that was not permitted by the majority to be considered by the full Senate. There was extreme tension between the GOP and Dempcrats that resulted in a heated debate between Senators Bonacic and Gianaris. The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) also created their own budget resolution. The Senate GOP allowed the conference to have their resolution come to the floor for a vote. Mainline Democrats were furious and all voted against the resolution after some very raucous debate.

The IDC resolution was largely the same but did focus on Raise the Age (although not the same Raise the Age provisions as the Assembly), more money for legal defense for immigrants,  different monetary amounts for Medicaid, the DREAM act, and a few other “progressive” policies. Over all the two bills are very similar and the Democrats were furious over the obvious power play by Senator Klein. Senator Gianaris was particularly upset and got into a heated debate continues  with the new Senator from Manhattan Marisol Alcantara who eventually went on to accuse Gianaris of white privilege because he was opposing the DREAM Act (a bill which Gianaris is actually a staunch supporter). Eventually Senator Flanagan had to rise and remind the Senators to keep with chamber decorum or else face being removed from the chamber.

Even though the IDC resolution passed this really doesn’t mean anything.  We expect on Monday the General Conference Committee (aka Mothership) will meet this coming Monday and our hope is that they will set table targets for the different issue area committees to discuss (ex. Health care, education, transportation). As always the three men in the room do the actual budget negotiations behind closed doors.  The League will continue to push for open leaders meetings as the budget negotiations continue. It is likely that many of these proposals will be stripped from the final bill but we hope that the Assembly will stand strong on their proposals to include Raise the Age and a full phase in of Foundation Aid. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Budget Deadline Nears...

As the budget clock ticks closer and closer to March14th the League is continuing to advocate to keep early voting and automatic voter registration in the final budget. Both of these voting reforms will need seed money to get them up and running. Over the course of this week we met with several legislators and urged them to put money behind Governor Cuomo’s early voting proposal. Although early voting could be achieved legislatively, without the proper funding counties will have to find their own source of funding to pay for the poll site locations and staff to man the locations.

In addition to election reform funding, the League has been lobbying to keep foundation aid in the final budget proposal. Past failures to fulfil the state’s mandated commitment to Foundation Aid has left students in overcrowded classroom with limited resources.  The League has partnered with several education activist organizations and is working to make sure the legislature fulfills their commitment and funds public schools in New York State. We are advocating for a three year phase in of Foundation Aid.  This year the Governor did not include the Education Tax Credit in his budget proposal but the bills have been introduced legislatively in the Senate.

We were pleased to see several of our voting reform bills move out of committee in both the Senate and Assembly. These bills include removing party emblems from ballots, allowing for the usage of email addresses on voter registration forms, the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, pre-registration for 17 year olds, and a bill to allow for the usage of electronic poll books.

We expect the Senate and Assembly to release their budgets on Monday, March 13th. Stay tuned for our analysis of their proposed budgets. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Women's Suffrage and A Special Announcement!

This week the legislature returned from their week long recess. On Wednesday the League was invited to attend an event with the Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Women’s Bipartisan Political Caucus, and Suffrage Celebration Commission kicking off Women’s History Month. Our League President, Dare Thompson, is a member of the Suffrage Celebration Commission. She and the other commission members will be working to plan events around the state. The commission has established a suffrage website which can be accessed here.   The League has already began our suffrage celebrations. You can see more information on our suffrage plans on our website: here. You can also see a calendar of all local League events happening throughout New York State here. In addition to celebrations and historical materials, we have set up a blog to highlight famous New York Suffragists:

On Thursday we had several meetings with Senators from both political parties. We have been working hard to lobby to keep early voting and automatic voter registration in the budget. We have also been lobbying Senators on the Reproductive Health Act and Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act. In the afternoon we attended a press conference hosted by Assemblywoman Nolan on full funding for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The League has long been a supporter of full funding for CFE and we will continue to work on this effort in 2017.

Finally, the League is proud to announce our newest campaign: Be Earthwise! In support of the League’s effort to respect the environment and address the impacts of climate change, the League of Women Voters of NYS has launched Be Earthwise, our new campaign to engage all Americans from every state to learn the facts, vote with your dollars and vote with your daily actions to preserve our planet. We are asking that citizens take the pledge to Be Earthwise on Earth Day 2017:

I’ll vote with my dollars. I PLEDGE to respect the environment and address the effects of climate change when making my consumer purchases.
I’ll vote with my actions. I PLEDGE to respect the environment and the address effects of climate change through my daily activities.
I’ll participate in our democracy. I PLEDGE to take action as a citizen to help shape public policy that respects the environment and addresses the effects of climate change

To learn more and take the pledge visit our pledge page here